I can’t believe I haven’t been here in so long. I can’t believe you’ve been coming back and checking in all this time. I can’t believe you haven’t given up on me. I bow to you in gratitude while applauding your clearly divine patience.

What’s been going on is delicious and note worthy. December was cooked into a gourmet month in its entirety. Suddenly my name was passed from mouth to mouth and I landed catering gigs and other fun events of sorts that kept me tied to my stove.

To keep the long story short, I’m attaching a few photos from the above mentioned moments of what later turned out to be a great success:

Beef skewers with sweet potato, grape and chimichurri sauce.

Coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate and polished for the party.

One of my brilliant helpers, Molly, working my Goat Cheese Tarts like she means it.

The #1 Crowd Pleaser: Beef Sliders w/ Balsamic Shallots

One bites: Cherry Tomatoes with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Glaze

Those are just the few snapshots I was able to take in the midst of the festivities. As soon as all the parties were over with, I was home in a bath tub filled with hot waters and enhanced with silky oils. The bath was mandatory if I were to get up early the following morning and pack for our trip East.

There, as in Texas, we entered virgin (to me) territories of disc golfing. Having successfully scattered all my discs all over the four adjacent fields, and that’s not what I were to aim for, I decided at last to let the others do the work while I laid in the grass to contemplate. Things seemed to look more interesting from that angle.

Three Musketeers of disc golfing at it.

Also, it was cold. Cold it was. Have I mentioned it was really, really cold out there?

The more so we enjoyed getting back into the warmth of the Harkins’ family’s house right in time for Christmas celebrations. Santa lost his marbles this year, clearly, as the mountain of presents that built up around the tree was making me dizzy just by looking at it. It could only be compared, I imagine, to the impression Uluru Mountain in Australia made on Oprah on her recent trip to Australia. All we wanted to do at the sight of our holy hill of presents was to close our eyes and meditate over its natural beauty.

Not for long. The children soon arrived and the mass destruction began. Neatly wrapped boxes proceeded to fly across the room, ribbons got ripped impatiently, and the wrapping paper torn into confetti.

Don’t be fooled by the innocent faces of those two little munchkins. They know their game, trust me.

It all stil looks neat and sane, doesn’t it? Just wait.

Heavy duty trash bags and oxygen masks were required to bring this war zone back to civilized conditions.

Then, suddenly I realized Cosmo went missing. How could he have not really? My instant reaction was to scream:

FREEZE! NOBODY MOVES. EMPTY THE TRASH BAG RIGHT NOW.

I did it with my inside voice, thank god. I had put that family through enough already with my shopping cart rides across their local Walmart, and then again by asking for vibrators at their local BEST BUY when the nice salesman offered to help us with any electronics we may be in need of. It’s a small town, by the way. I’ll say no more.

At the peak of my panic, I glanced just below my feet (the monkey in me climbed up the couch to take a few shots of the surrounding madness) and saw Cosmo tucked between the cushions… those of the sofa itself and those belonging to Jason’s mom…

I feel like I should end this ramble-o-thon right about now, but then it wouldn’t be complete without Paula Dean, would it?

The Queen of Southern Coking opened the Rose Bowl Parade herself, and Jason and I were there on the crisp morning of the New Year in Pasadena, and our asses we froze, and off the bucket list we took part taking in the thing forever. Alleluia.

Though we also snapped a big bucket of photos, I think I’ve exhausted my audience, my blog space, and my own self with this vomit of stories. Please, forgive my erratic behavior on these pages. I’m just a girl… who likes to cook and then write about it. I can’t control everything else that falls in between.

Happy New Year, Everybody. I’m excited to go through it with you again. Cheers!

Belated, I know. Mea culpa.

Or, I could blame it on Christmas.

First, I was hired (yoohoo!) to cater several Christmas parties in December, which kept me occupied twenty-four-seven till the minute the celebrations were over. Shortly after that we packed and left for East Texas, where Santa tossed truck-loads of gifts under the tree and the surrounding it floor, thus creating an obstacle the size of the Chinese Wall and consequently making it impossible for me to get through to my computer. Then, a fleet of overjoyed kids went through the house like a tornado, and I was forced to put all my efforts into trying to stay alive. Next, you wouldn’t believe it but Jason and I went through a dust storm, followed by tumble weed attack of massive proportions, then rain, sleet, and eventually a full on snow blizzard on our way back to Los Angeles.

I’m sure you’ll agree the circumstances I found myself in offered anything but piece and quiet for me and my laptop. Hence, the promised snapshots of the culinary extravaganza by widely popular eco-lifestylist and raw food chef Ani Phyo are only now lining up into a slide show for your enjoyment.

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There’s more information about the food and bites from behind the scene on Ani’s blog. You should click and take a peek.

Also, I owe you a couple of corrections to my previous article that Ani herself said were not a big deal. Hobo Oil she uses on her skin is made of jojoba, the plant. Also, she suggested using spirulina powder itself for an eye shadow, since it is dark green color. As for her make up, Ani uses the ones mineral based.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday break. I shall reveal some intimate details from mine in the upcoming entries along with delicious food teasers, as customary.

Today’s article was sponsored by the color PURPLE.

(Go Frogs!)

December is that time of year when everyone from Average Joe to Plain Jane hasten their steps in an attempt to find closure. Whether it’s personal matters like cleaning one’s teeth and de-cluttering their house, or a business deal that must be closed before the clock strikes midnight, all tasks are to be accomplished or else everything will turn into a pumpkin patch and Cinderella will run away barefoot.

The same commotion rules our house these days, hence my seldom presence in this cyber neighborhood. I’ve been meaning to sit down and tell you a story of a certain encounter, and a chat that followed…

Last month, while helping chef Fullilove shine his bright culinary light on LA food enthusiasts at the Test Kitchen, I ran into Ani Phyo, the raw food chef extraordinaire and author of four un-cook books. I think she’s working on her fifth now.

It’s funny how it happened really. All covered in flour dust while cutting beet pasta into long ribbons of vegan tagliatelle, I noticed this woman hanging around in the room, speaking gently on her cell phone, trying to be as non-intrusive as possible. Her voice I found very comforting and calming. Yes, I have a thing for voices. It turns me on if it strikes the right tone, and I don’t mean in a sexual way. At least not this time.

I digress.

The woman looked familiar, but I couldn’t match the face with a name in my head. She greeted us, asked about the pasta with an excited spark in her eye, and I couldn’t help but notice the voice again. Have I mentioned that I have a thing for people’s voices? I had to say something! Graciously she accepted my compliment and exited the room leaving nothing short of a shimmering glow behind. I saw her around over the two days I spent there, me working on Jason’s thing, her prepping for her event the following week. It wasn’t until I heard someone mention the name “Ani” and the word “raw” all in one sentence when it hit me.

I’VE GOT HER BOOK IN MY HOUSE! I’VE SEEN HER YOUTUBE VIDEOS. I KNOW WHO THE WOMAN IS!

Phew!

Ani Phyo in the kitchen of the Test Kitchen with Top Chef Alex Reznik.

Next thing I know, I’m stalking the poor gal around the kitchen premises hoping to score a short chat with her. For this blog. For YOU! Of course, it wasn’t the time nor place for it, so we settled for a phone conversation after her menu tasting at the Test Kitchen in mid November. However, Thanksgiving got in our way and it wasn’t until maybe last week that my phone rang at the precise time Ani said she would call.

I had a roster of questions I planned to bombard Ani with, but you know how it is. A conversation is a living creature, and so, as to be expected, it took us on its own ride. To begin, I wanted to know what was Ani’s definition of RAW FOODISM. She made it very uncomplicated by describing raw diet as fresh, whole foods made with ideally locally grown and organic ingredients.

“You can make a simple and delicious tomato and tarragon bisque straight from the blender. Or you can cook it, but that takes it longer and makes it more complicated” she explained.

Back in the day, when my eating habits were all over the map for reasons other than health, I went through raw stage myself. I read a ton about the diet, and learnt how complex and time-consuming its preparation was. Foods should be either completely raw or cooked in temperatures not exceeding 118° as to save the metabolism-boosting enzymes captured in the produce. Grains should be soaked in water for extended lengths of time in order for our stomachs to be able to digest them. If you wanted to get different textures you would have to dehydrate and/or powder some of your veggies. It wasn’t a diet for someone who works 10-11 hour days and wants to have a social life on top of that. Thank god, I lived in NYC back then where I had a raw food restaurant just a few blocks up, and a deli with fresh fruits and veggies cut and packaged daily for my convenience. My refrigerator stood empty for the entire five years that I was in Manhattan.

The memories of that period came back to me now, with Ani on the other end of the cable, and so I asked her about that whole process. Shockingly, she wasn’t very excited about dehydrating the food herself since in the process you lose, you know, the water. Then you need to drink it separately, and why would you do that if you can get both in one. Most of her recipes can be made very quickly, as she pointed out, using only a few kitchen essentials like a knife, a blender,  and a food processor, which I found stamped as little picture icons next to each recipe in her book, “Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen“.  Speaking of the book, its cover presents Ani about to take a bite from a raw sandwich she’s holding in her hands. That thing looks so incredibly appetizing. Every time I glance at the bookshelf, I want to rip it off the page, lick the paper, and bite into the binding. I can TASTE it just by looking at the damn thing. You must check it out!

The idea of raw foods instantly whisks me away to tropical lands abundant with fresh produce… and sunshine! Would it be wise and practical to switch to an all raw diet for someone who lives in an area where winter comes and slaps you in the face with its snow falls and damp weather, I asked next?

“You can add heating ingredients, like chili pepper, or ginger to your food. However, everyone is unique and must listen to their body. I lived in Portland for four years, where it rained a lot, and my hands were constantly cold. I don’t know if it was good for me that I ate raw there. It depends on a person. Just listen to your body, and if you feel like you need something warm, eat something warm.”

Here’s where I really started falling for that girl because… she’s rational. She encourages people to stay healthy and live balanced lives as opposed to following some strict rules that lead to extremes.

“If you want to make changes in your diet” – Ani suggests – “start with whole ingredients.” (Meaning unprocessed, organic produce.) “Have gratitude, educate yourself and make choices based on that knowledge. Living a whole and balanced life is not only about the food, but also about your attitude, creating a strong bond with your community, giving back, and having gratitude.”

Having heard all that I couldn’t help but wonder: does Ani Phyo, the sexy queen of raw food movement, cheats on an occasion with what she consumes herself?

“Oh, yes, I cheat sometimes. How crazy do you want to get?” she asked laughing. “I love quinoa. I like tempeh, too. Just the other day, I wanted something warm, so I cooked myself a bowl of lentils. And sometimes, when I get the craving, I stop by Veggie Grill and get a veggie burger. And you know what, I have wheat intolerance, and I know I will have a stomach cramp and I will feel bad for a day, and I may even break out. But once in a while, if I want it, I just have a veggie burger.”

I was in love. A normal gal, sane, with all the pieces of furniture neatly organized in her head. It’s all about balance, people. Extremes never work long term and too often lead to eating disorders, which I myself learnt the hard way. Ani also admitted to having lived hard core raw for a decade, and today she realizes it wasn’t healthy for her.

So what does her day look like today food wise? She starts with two, three smoothies in the morning. She’ll blend blueberries, cashews, water and lecithin into a creamy drink and have it for breakfast. For lunch she may have a big green salad since she likes to work out mid day. After breaking a sweat, she may enjoy another smoothie while her metabolism is rolling. Dinner meal could be a bowl of lentils, a wrap, a salad, whatever strikes her fancy. Kelp noodles is something she raves about for a great addition to a salad.

When on the road, and she travels a lot, Ani always carries with her a bag of goji berries, nuts, maybe nori wrap or dried sea vegetables to nibble on. A banana, an orange and some peanut butter also travel well and help her get through parts of the country that don’t offer a wide array of fresh produce.

Ani Phyo's Raw Kale Chips

In the end I got all girly on her and dug for her beauty tips.

“I don’t put on my skin anything I wouldn’t eat, since it gets absorbed through the pores and gets into my blood stream. I use hobo oil to moisture my skin. Or coconut oil. I just rub it all over. I smell like a piña-colada and I love it. However, in winter I use hobo oil, because it sinks into the skin faster.”

Make-up she uses sporadically, not on a daily basis. Ani’s OK with mascara in moderation, not to be extreme. And if she uses eye shadows, she chooses spirulina based cosmetics.

All in all, it was such an inspiring exchange. Ani is gracious, laughs a lot, and takes herself lightly. Her beauty comes from within first. It’s her healthy mind and body that allow for her charms to express themselves in the physical form as well. She’s delightful to be around, and I hope for another chance in the future.

Feel free to visit her website and direct any questions to her via her Facebook fan page. That’s the best way to get a hold of her, she says.

In my next installment, I’ll include photos of the foods Ani Phyo wowed the crowds with at the Test Kitchen back in November. Stay tuned.

I can’t say it enough: I love meat. The pink, the red, the white stuff, I’ll devour it all. If I grew up in China, IF, I’d probably eat dogs, too. Then again, I was born and raised in Europe and yet never ate a horse (at least not to my knowledge). Though horse meat was readily available to its enthusiasts (were they?), it just never sounded good. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, when I was in my teens, my room was plastered, floor to ceiling, with posters of horses, plus an occasional image of Patrick Swayze and Mel Gibson (the real life mad man turns out) tucked in between.

Maybe Mel Gibson ate horses? Or dogs??

Here is another thing I not only am crazy about, but also can’t live without. So can’t you. The thing is the Earth with its abundance of life forms, with its breathtaking beauty, with its mind-boggling complexity, with its mighty power of creation…

 

I watched this video today, made by a very cool organization called GOOD, where I heard it again: meat production creates three times the green house gas emission as veggies, eggs, grains, or fish. The video is not a dooming project, it’s educational. See what small changes you can adopt in your every day living that will help not only to save you BIG BUCKS but also contribute to global energy savings and thus help protect our motherland.

 

 

When you go grocery shopping this weekend, plan your menu for your next Meatless Monday. You’ll find countless ideas for satisfying and nutrient-dense meals made with no meat on the pages of yours truly (ONE MORE BITE). For a quick reference, however, I’ll throw in another one today.

This is one of those dishes I actually don’t plan for. Funny enough, the only ones I do are those meat-heavy platters. Every week I get a variety of vegetables, whatever calls my name and with no agenda. Around 4 PM on a mid week day I enter the kitchen and poke my head into the refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Slowly, one by one, I begin to pull out various greens and land them on the kitchen counter. Next, I go through the pantry cabinet and look for grains or pastas, beans, nuts, dried fruit, canned anchovies, tomato paste, etc. From a basket in the corner I grab an onion or a couple of shallots, a head of garlic, maybe a couple of potatoes. At this point, while I may look calm and relaxed on the outside, in my head I undergo a violent and calorie-consuming brainstorm.

Within minutes my kitchen turns into a mad scientist’s lab with lights blinking, cupboard doors slamming, windows shattering, and other inexplicable explosions visible on the horizon. Half an hour or so later I come out, as if nothing ever happened, with a complete dinner, plated and all.

It’s as easy as cooking rice and adding to it a handful of frozen edamame beans minutes before its done. It’s as easy as finely chopping a shallot, garlic and chili pepper and tossing them together on a hot pan with a touch of olive oil and a handful of almonds. It’s as easy as parboiling string beans and florets of broccoli in salted water and then adding those guys to the pan with the nuts. Drop in a handful of sweat peas, drizzle with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar or lime juice, even a touch of honey. Serve over the rice, garnish with fresh herbs and sprouts of any kind, and ENJOY immediately. I guarantee, you won’t even notice there was no meat on the plate.

Some days, when a special someone, like my friend Tamara who also happens to be an incredibly knowledgable and skilled acupuncturist (she’s funny, too!), comes over for dinner, I think things through and prep ahead. She follows what I call a relaxed vegan diet. Her household is free of animal products, however when out and about she will occasionally enjoy a piece of cheese, or pastry. She lives her life labels-free, thus allowing herself to be mostly content with what is, rather than stressed out with what’s not. I admire that quality in her as it’s not as easy to attain as it is to write about it.

We ate together last night, and I wanted to celebrate her joy de vivre by creating a dish bursting with flavors, textures, and colors, while respecting her vegan preference. Hence, I juxtaposed dark Mahogany rice with roasted peanuts and basil oil (all sunk in) against white and raw celeriac salad with walnuts and creamy sunflower seed vinaigrette. On a bed of bright orange sweet potato mash I laid green zucchini and bok choy, plus a handful of garbanzo beans made Southern style (meaning fried). To add texture I sprinkled nutty hemp seeds over the rice and red teardrops of pomegranate seeds all over the plate. A couple of edamame beans delivered another building block of protein, and made the meal complete.

Cooking is fun, especially when you think outside of the box and keep reinventing yourself. Mother Nature gifted us with thousands of incredible varieties of edible plants. Whether you like them raw, cooked, dehydrated, even fried (however rarely), chances are you’ll never get bored with them. So get jiggy with it!

Guess what, no animal was harmed in the process of writing this post. On the contrary, Cosmo napped on my lap all along with my left hand scratching his ear while the right one typed each letter  o n e   b y   o n e.

Also, for the record, I would never EVER bite a dog. Not even a hot-dog.

This was an excellent holiday by my standards.

The weather was perfect with the cold air pinching my butt, bringing the memories of the old country. Four good friends sat around the potluck table heavy with foods. The dog perched by my feet hoping for someone to get sloppy and drop scraps down to his floor. The tradition of the holy trio: turkey+stuffing+gravy was fulfilled. My sweet potatoes embellished with crispy pancetta Heather found “fascinating”. Whip cram whipped on the go topped the pumpkin pie like the dot does an “i”.

And then someone picked up a camera, and things got uncivilized to say the least. However, in order to protect the reputation and innocence of my friends, I am forced to censor the photo-shoot. Before I reveal the images from this weekend, let me just say that I have never seen such ridiculous amount of dirty dishes after a dinner for four. We needed a shovel just to get in the door, and then we had to instal a car wash system inside the kitchen to deal with that mountain of debris. It had to be done, this way or another, as the following morning we were leaving for San Diego.

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Down, in San Diego, we roamed the paths of Balboa Park, poking our noses into gardens and exhibitions. Friday night Jason took me out on a date with the view of the landing planes. We dined at chef Bertrand Hug’s Mister A’s, apparently the top restaurant in San Diego. Everything was splendid minus the temperature of certain foods. A glass of superb Zinfandel helped me forget that minor detail fairly quickly nonetheless.

We did have fun times at the ZOO horsing around with the donkeys and wild monkeys. We rode a bus and took photos of a polar bear playing with a plastic blue ball in the pool, or a camel standing still, foam on his mouth and empty gaze in his eyes. We did enjoy ourselves, and yet a sense of sadness lingered as we strolled from one cage to another. Is that right that we keep the animals imprisoned for our viewing pleasure?

BABY, I DON’T WANT TO GO TO A ZOO AGAIN…

…Jason said this morning as he recapped the events of our holiday weekend in an email to a close friend.

Too often I feel so helpless in the face of injustice, lack of common sense, or mere stupidity in the surrounding me world. I’m learning that my strength lays in knowing when to actively support a cause, and when not to participate even though the masses do.

Something to think about. Thanks for reading!

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